February 10, 2014

London: A Society Beyond Borders

Just before I moved to London, someone told me “It will get to you and it will change you.”
They told me about the cold and mean people that would harden me and that the city would eventually grind me down; that time simply vanishes; that you will always be doing, going, running and never stopping. 

There’s a reason they call it the rat race.

Not one to take everything as gospel, I faithfully began to pass my life here. To spend my every day and answer ‘London’ when people asked me where I lived, to write ‘London’ in the little boxes as I registered at the doctors surgery or filled in a new form, and to take steps towards unravelling the huge knot that is the mass of streets and boroughs surrounding me from the place I call my home – London.

I have lived in cities before: Canterbury, Barcelona and Zamora, which comparatively form a tiny fraction of the size of the capital. Within these, I both struggled to fit in and in time, conquered. Slotting into the identity of these cities I became part of the larger fabric and established myself as a recognisable member of these smaller communities. I would say to people “It takes at least 6-months to adjust to a new place, to feel as if you belong.”

As if I knew what I was talking about, as if this applied everywhere.

What I have discovered living in this hectic metropolis day in and day out, are the wild boundaries of the infinite and the intimate, moments of belonging and of sheer isolation and of improbable landscapes filled with people of all different sizes, shapes and race. That every second, minute, hour and day have the potential to be indescribably multi-coloured, multi-faceted and multi-cultural.

In response to that person who told me of London, sometimes it can feel as if I am always doing, going, running and never stopping to a backdrop of this unconquerable spill and tango of the ‘multi’. However, the capacity of London to surprise me with feelings from deep-rooted horror to profound, dizzying love is endless.
While I do see days vanish, as if the volume of change here somehow affects the pace at which time is set, I do not feel hardened but rather, quite blessed. If you smile at those cold faces, you might find they smile back because after all, we’re all living under the same mad roof that is crumbling in one place, or gilded with gold the next. We’re all running the same race.

There are small moments of beauty: impromptu storytelling time with children sitting next to you on the bus, moonlit bike rides along the canal and stumbling upon a community event where you are welcomed, a lone participator, as a friend. 

There are moments of monstrosity: witnessing a racial conflict amounting to violence when you only popped out for a loaf of bread, unexpected pockets of despairing poverty and of  the vast and immeasurable ignorance served to those who walk the streets with startlingly apparent mental illnesses - of the fear in people's eyes. 

I often feel as if I am a spectator at a grand, elaborate show. Sometimes the cast choose to include me, sometimes they do not. Sometimes I choose to include myself, sometimes I do not.  
What is definitely apparent is that it takes longer than 6-months to adjust but, as I do, I have come to discover that London, unlike other cities I have visited or lived in, pushes borders and boundaries. It is at once as warm as it is cold.  It breaks constraints. It is a place of relentless change, of adjustment, of the newer and of the wilder: it is where British society starts.

London is a house without walls; a roof under which all have the freedom to pound the pavements and where culture endlessly adjusts to capacitate new social change. Layers are heaped upon each other as new waves of immigrants join our kaleidoscope of character and racial intricacies, creating a mound that writhes and battles to accommodate all- no one said that change was easy, but I feel of all the places in the United Kingdom, as if London is at the very least trying, if not leading the way for multiculturalism. 

And this is why I love living in London.

London will get to you and it will change you. Eventually, it will change us all.


  1. Already from talking to you and seeing photos I know london has changes you. It is a very interesting thing to see. I agree with your comments. I think london can be heaven and it can also be hell... It is such a fascinating creature. I have a love hate relationship with it. It is kind of like heroin. For me small doses work wonders... Too much and it kills me.

  2. This was bea-utiful! It makes me even more excited to make my move to the south happen, I want to be changed :-) xxx

  3. What a lovely piece, Sally. I find it takes me much longer than 6 months to adjust, probably because I move so often, I don't engage quickly. Something to work on. Beautiful writing :)


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